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Notes from Babylonstoren
I was recently privileged enough to have an unforgettable bucket-list weekend in the fairytale Farm Cottages at Babylonstoren, exploring the magic of their farm and gardens, hotel and restaurants.
I have spent many hours wondering how to shape the memories into words that will encompass just how special it all was, and although I know that I am going to come up short, I hope you’ll indulge me by reading my attempt… Or, better yet, take advantage of their amazing winter special and go and live the dream for yourself.
Also, you can re-live it all with me over on my Instagram Stories this weekend.
If I had to pick a word to sum it all up, it would probably begin and end here, with Eden. Besides the obvious, that the name ‘Babylonstoren’ is rooted in Biblical history, and without wanting to sound trite, there is something hallowed and ethereal about the place itself, something that stirs up a sense of wellbeing and quiet tranquility in your heart.
\ ˈē-dᵊn \
Definition of Eden
2: the garden where according to the account in Genesis Adam and Eve first lived
3: a place of pristine or abundant natural beauty
Babylonstoren is also so much more than just ‘a farm’ – it is a carefully curated masterpiece of gardens of unparalleled beauty and diversity, and a cleverly contemporary portfolio of an effortlessly elegant Hotel, Spa, Restaurants and Farm Shops that blend perfectly into the rich tapestry of the story as a whole.
Our first afternoon took me by Land Rover up the steep face of the rugged hills that border the far side of the farm, the perfect setting to have a farm-foraged snack, a sip of their home-made and utterly delicious Bitter Lekker aperitif and take in the glory of the rolling hills and full magnificence of aerial views of the gardens stretching out below.
Jump on your farm bicycle and let’s go for a ride…
Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms in the country, dating back to 1692, and is set against the suitably dramatic backdrop of the rugged foothills of the Simonsberg Mountains in the Franschhoek wine valley.
Fortunately for us, the fingerprints of South African design guru Karen Roos are clear to see in every layer of the farm experience. She has expertly blended inspirations and ideas from her extensive travels with the very best Cape flair and flavours. In 2007 Karen commissioned the garden layout conceptualisation by world renowned French architect Patrice Taravella, whose work at Prieuré Notre Dame d’Orsan in France had impressed her greatly. There Patrice had reconstructed a medieval cloistered garden on the site of a restored 12th-century monastery. And together, their genius merges beautifully and it’s a joy to behold how it all comes together as a very unique haven that preserves and acknowledges history at every turn, but is equally fixed on innovation and expansiveness. And the garden is, of course, the star of the show. The heart and soul.
As the Daily Telegraph put it “The most stylish hotel in the Winelands, with contemporary detailing offset against historic Cape Dutch architecture, and considered design that delights at every turn. The eight-acre kitchen garden and restaurant are destinations in their own right, but waking up here is the ultimate privilege.”
The 3.5-hectare garden, modelled on the famous Company’s Garden in Cape Town (and now proudly the 2nd most visited gardens in South Africa each year after Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens), pays tribute to the gardening traditions of the Cape; for centuries the halfway station between Europe and Asia, where ships would replenish with water, vegetables and fruit. There are over three kilometres of paths through the garden, which provide hours of walking pleasure, or join the daily guided tour led by one of the gardeners.
In our case, we were in the very capable hands of the head gardener, Liesl van der Walt, and were spellbound by her knowledge and passion for the garden, and her delight in sharing it every step of the way.
Liesel (with over 20 years experience previously working at Kirstenbosch, and having spent time in France with Taravella himself, learning old traditional ways of farming) expertly guided us on an odyssey for the senses.
Just a few of the most enchanting snapshots of this organic wonderland include dozens of pillars with scented roses climbing on them, guava trees that are over 80 years old, clusters of prickly pears, ancient and indigenous olive trees, fragrant swathes of lavender and rosemary that are used to make up essential oils. Delicate and peaceful walled gardens are studded throughout, their fountains adding to the lovely melody of background garden sounds. It’s a perfectly harmonious juxtaposition of pruned and wild, and it’s breathtaking to behold. A happy moment of waiting for a raft of loudly quacking ducks as they march past on their way over a wooden bridge in the sunlight, and off we go to the vineyards, through mystical mangroves and in to…
The Spice Garden
Situated within a domed conservatory, this exotic space contains an intoxicating array of aromatic spices that are a throw-back to the spice trade. Turmeric, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg and cloves are all there, to name just a few. Tropical Asian fish swim about in two glass aquariums (and beneath the deck) – an homage to the continent from which these spices originated.
The Spice Garden is available to host private functions for between 13 and 24 guests. There are different menus for winter and summer, but each feature spiced tea or coffee, freshly baked bread, handcrafted butter and Babylonstoren olives, salad, soup, various herbs and vegetables from the garden, and of course a delicious dessert. I feel like having a party just to have an excuse to try it out, care to join me?!
Find out more over here.
We traveled on from the Spice Garden through the Healing Garden, Succulent Greenhouse, Garden Spa, past the elegantly contemporary Wine Tasting buildings and ended in the shady retreat near the entrance to Babel Restaurant, and the whitewashed stone walls of the adjacent hotel reception.
The original Farm Hotel was made up of 13 stone cottages (a mix of suites and cottages), dotted along a lovely shady lane that leads to the main artery of the farm, and it’s safe to say that they embody ‘boutique farm stay’ at its best.
The recent addition of the Fynbos Cottages, where Rob and I spent the weekend, was as much to meet demand for more accommodation, as to take a step further into the farm and allow guests to immerse themselves even more fully into the natural habitat of the surrounding landscape.
Pretty shutters, wooden doors and elegant gables give all of the hotel and Fynbos Cottages an authentic feel, but inside it’s anything but old fashioned. Light spills through quaint and exquisitely made greenhouse-style glass annexes that are attached to each cottage, and which are home to a sunlit and perfectly equipped kitchen and dining area that opens onto a lounge with a comforting fireplace and two dream-worthy bedrooms.
The cottages adjoin nearby vineyards and orchards. Just a hop away from the main hotel area with your complimentary golf cart or farm bicycle. The Pool Room opens onto a deck with breathtaking views of the nearby mountains. And while you take in the views, or go for a sunset walk or run through the vineyards, or enjoy a sundowner at the nearby dam or on your verandah, you can work up an appetite for the feast that awaits just down the hill at Babel…
Simple, generous and honest…
Obviously but thankfully, the menus are always guided by what is available in the garden. Farm to fork has never rung truer than here, where every meal is moulded by what is seasonally available in the garden. The variety produced by this eight-acre ‘pantry garden’ is quite astonishing and even the simplest salad is a treasure trove of fresh hand-picked ingredients.
Housed in the old cowshed, Babel Restaurant is a wonderful mix of Cape Dutch architecture and contemporary glass walls that makes for a simple yet edgy environment in which to try the tasty yet often unconventional flavour combinations. Due to the relentless demand, bookings for Babel, the main restaurant, now open two months in advance.
Rob and I loved every minute of our cosy dinner – the whole experience was perfectly understated but incredibly special and luxurious. From the warm candlelit welcome to the simple bread basket loaded with warm sourdough and whipped farm butter, the plated laden with just-picked crudités and the bubbling glass of perfecdtly tart, amber bitter lekker.
Rob’s Karoo wagyu with miso-mushrooms stood handsomely alongside my beautifully plated Lamb Cutlets that were dressed with a perfectly balanced sticky citrus sauce. The dessert was one of the most memorable I’ve had in a long time, creative but not trying too hard, it hit the spot perfectly with its elements of buffalo yoghurt, citrus mampoer, poached guavas, caramelised white chocolate and creamy caramel. We took this as a take-away back to our room because the restaurant was closing early due to Covid curfew, and I can’t even begin to pretend that I didn’t leave my manners at the front door while I greedily gobbled up every last crumb.
Breakfast the next morning after our farm tour was as wonderful as you would expect, but still somehow even more delicious and generous than I could have hoped. The spread included everything from perfectly baked flaky, buttery croissants (my forever favourite) to a variety of handmade granolas, farm fresh yoghurt, eggs and fresh fruit from the garden, delicious local cheeses (another favourite of mine) and a hot breakfast menu that left us wondering if we’d ever possibly feel hungry again.
Schalk Vlok is the current executive chef. His food is nothing short of masterful, and he works closely with the farm bakers and gardeners, and with their head food designer and stylist, Maranda Engelbrecht. Together, they make a formidable team, serving simple, down-to-earth food that is a joy to behold and a joy to eat.
At the far end of the garden is another one of my favourites – The Greenhouse Restaurant, epitomised by a beautiful greenhouse conservatory that was custom-built in France for Babylonstoren, and where al fresco eating and no-fuss food is the order of the day. The menu abounds with home-baked treats, pies, fresh garden juices, artisanal breads with handcrafted cheeses and cold meats, as well as fresh garden salads and, of course, teas and coffees.
Staying true to Babylonstoren’s farm-to-fork mission of utilising fresh, local produce, their cold-pressed juices are made from fruit and vegetables sourced directly from the garden and surrounding farmland. In their state-of-the-art juicery, the produce is cold-pressed, mixed together, and then preserved using High Pressure Processing (HPP), which keeps the product fresh without using any heat, thereby preserving the flavour and nutritional value.
We also loved our olive & balsamic vinegar tour and tasting, happily led by our guide Franco. We got a behind-the-scenes look at how Babylonstoren’s olive oils and balsamic vinegars are created as well as the opportunity to taste and make our own olive oil blend to take home as a precious keepsake.
JUST FOR YOU
Fresh from Babylonstoren to your very own kitchen
Their farm fresh deliveries mean you can enjoy the bounty from their winter garden, without leaving the comfort of home. Whether it’s a harvest box filled with freshly picked fruits and veggies, their garden-inspired HPP juices or convenient recipe packs for speedy weeknight dinners, get your daily dose of plant-based vitamins and minerals delivered to your doorstep! Delivery for Farm Fresh products and the Seasonal Harvest Box is available in Cape Town and its surrounds. Deliveries run from Monday to Saturday, order by 14h00 for next day delivery.
More details HERE.
Book a restorative farm stay and experience it for yourself – Babylonstoren are currently running a winter offer for the Farm Hotel
Pay for 1, Stay for 2
Make the most of the slower season and soak up the winter sunshine as we invite you to join us for an additional night when you book one night in our farm hotel.
Offer valid until 31 August and you can find more details HERE.